Natural forest growth and human induced ecosystem disturbance influence water yield in forests

Together natural growth, afforestation and forest disturbance, such as felling, contribute to the dynamic nature of forests. Thus to enhance forest management, water resource management and carbon sequestration, the net effect of forest changes on water yield must be better understood. Here, we conduct a global meta-analysis of 496 watersheds over 25 years to investigate the impact of forest complexity and overall changes on water yields. We classify watersheds based on the type of human disturbance, including felling and thinning, afforestation, and absence of external disturbances. We find that the runoff coefficient (ratio of annual water yield in watershed outlet to precipitation) is more sensitive to external disturbances in forests with lower ecosystem complexity compared to forests with higher complexity. In addition, we found forest natural growth may increase runoff and lead to an increased runoff coefficient decades later. Our findings highlight the importance of nature-based forest restoration, especially in regions vulnerable to water shortage.
© The Author(s) 2022. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Communications Earth & Environment, 2022, available online at: . Keywords: ecosystem ecology; forest ecology.
Yu, Z., Chen, X., Zhou, G. et al. Natural forest growth and human induced ecosystem disturbance influence water yield in forests. Commun Earth Environ 3, 148 (2022).